What Hardware Limitations?

Continuing on the theme of the new MacBook Pro, let’s explore the whole “it uses old hardware” and “it’s limited memory” issues. The hypocrisy of some people on this topic is astounding, to say the least.

What’s The Deal?

The new MacBook Pro does not use the latest Core i7 processors. It uses the last generation, which are certainly slower than the new ones. To get the best performance, laptop manufacturers that use this last-gen part also use the fastest RAM they can get, which limits machines to 16GB. The other problem: the latest mobile i7 doesn’t support a quad-core configuration yet, and that is reportedly months away.

To be able to offer a quad-core processor, and get the best performance out of the machine, Apple was left with two choices: wait until mid-2017 to release the machine, or go with what works now. The thing is, other manufacturers are going the same direction. None of them are catching heat for it like Apple is.

What’s Pro Grade Today?

The last MacBook Pro that could be considered traditionally “professional grade” was the 19″ MacBook Pro from 2010. This was as close to a ‘desktop in a notebook’ as you could get, going head-to-head with 19″ and 20″ monsters from Dell, HP and others. The MacBook Pro of that era was, by far, the smallest and lightest (relatively speaking), offered useful battery life, and still included near-desktop performance.

When the Retina-based MacBook Pros came out, Apple basically abandoned the “desktop in your computer bag” market. That isn’t to say these newer machines were weak or underperforming. They were still pretty impressive pieces. But they no longer were in the same category as the true “desktop on your lap” monsters that were still available.

Companies like Dell, HP, Asus, Acer and Razer responded, offering their own high-powered “thin-and-light” machines, which developers and content creators also adopted to some degree. These new machines aren’t as “pro” as the past, but they are still plenty capable.

Hypocrisy Abounds

A loud complaint about the new MacBook Pro is the 16GB limit. For some people, this is a real issue. If you are working with the typical suite of development tools, plus need to run a couple of virtual machines, 16GB can be very, very tight. You have to do some gymnastics, and live without running some software, to keep the machine from paging it’s brains out. This issue is certainly real.

But what I’ve seen so far, from a number of bloggers and commenters, is an attempt to find alternatives that will be acceptable (and better). The goal is to match or at least approach the portability of the MacBook Pro (I have yet to see any sensible person try to look at the “laptops” that are desktops stuffed into a 19″ frame, because that isn’t the same category). While the lists vary a little, most end up coming down to the same 3 machines:

  • Dell XPS 13
  • HP Spectre
  • Razer Blade

While the MacBook Pro is still smaller than these machines, they all offer comparable CPU, memory, storage and display performance. Actually, let’s back up: they offer identical CPU and memory performance, and similar storage and display capability. Some people include machines from Asus, Acer, Lenovo and others, but every one I’ve seen takes them off the list, primarily because of build quality or support.

So how is that the performance is the same? All 3 of them feature basically the same Core i7 that the MacBook Pro does, since they all want to include quad-core support. All of them use the same high-speed RAM (which, like the MacBook Pro, is soldered on the board), which limits them to 16GB of memory. None of them can upgrade their CPU or memory in the field. You might be able to upgrade the local storage, if you’re ambitious.

So, apparently the answer to the limits on the MacBook Pro memory and speed is to compare it to machines that have the exact same limits on memory and speed? In what world does this even being to make sense? How is not hypocrisy at it’s most obvious?

Only Answer Is Bigger

If you still need a quad core processor, and want to go beyond 16GB of RAM, your only choice right now is to sacrifice portability and battery life. That means going with machines like the Dell Precision 5000 or Razer Blade Pro. These are impressive machines, offering desktop performance in a portable form. But they are heavy (8+lbs) and physically fairly big. Their batteries won’t last you more than half a day. This is the price to be paid for high performance right now.

If you want thin-and-light, then for the next few months, you have to accept the 16GB limit and previous-gen Intel processors. It doesn’t matter whether you want the MacBook Pro, or comparable machines from Dell or HP. There might be other, lesser-known brands that offer better, but few people appear willing to take that chance. If you want mainstream, and you want well-built machines, then the same 3 alternatives appear again and again, and with good reason. All are top-quality machines (and all of them are certainly cheaper than the MacBook Pro, some by a wide margin).

That doesn’t mean people should stop complaining about the limitations. This is an explanation, and not a defence. This issue is a legitimate beef, and Apple might do themselves a favour by finding some other term than “Pro” for the machine names i he future, because they haven’t been truly “pro” for a while now. But don’t pretend that there are alternatives in the same class as the MacBook Pro. That’s just hypocritical.

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  1. Pingback: So Do I Want A MacBook Pro? | Thoughts from Geoff Kratz

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